common leadership mistakes
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5 common leadership mistakes and how to avoid them

16 May 2017

Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re immune to error. The key to being a good leader is to learn from your mistakes and avoid making them again.

Mistakes are there to be learned from. Sure, if we could avoid them altogether, that would be great.

However, no matter how hard you try, you probably won’t be able to avoid every mistake, especially in leadership.

You don’t have to be the boss to be exposed to leadership mistakes. Whether you’re managing your own smaller team, or simply taking the lead on a particular project, you are at risk of similar errors.

We’ve rounded up five of the most common leadership mistakes to help you avoid them. If you’ve already made them, there’s even more to be learned and these tips will prevent you from making the same mistake twice.

Being too friendly

Most of us are guilty of thinking we can be the friendly leader who is like ‘one of the gang’. That is, until it comes to certain people not pulling their own weight and you’re forced to either confront them or risk not being respected as a leader.

It can be difficult for those in leadership positions to assert their authority if they’re seen as a friend – you risk not being listened to properly.

Unfortunately, that means you have to take a strong position from the start. Assert your dominance without going on the offensive from the get-go. You don’t want to be a mean, unreasonable or harsh boss but you do want your colleagues to see you as a leader.

Delegating badly

Not delegating well is a common mistake that can take two forms.

The first is that some leaders don’t fully believe that anyone can do a job better than they can and so, they fail to delegate at all.

The second form is a leader that dishes out work without really thinking about their team and where true strengths lie.

For the first pitfall, you should remember that part of being a leader is delegating. You probably aren’t consciously thinking that you’re better than everyone else, however, that doesn’t mean you’re immune to the temptation of taking control.

The easiest way to avoid this is to force yourself to mentally delegate every single task, leaving you with nothing to do. Then, rearrange them, taking into account who would be best at each part. Finally, you can reclaim some of the tasks.

Focusing too much on the big picture

OK, as a leader, we know it’s your job to look at big-picture stuff. If you’re new to a leadership role, you might leave day-to-day tasks to your team, while you’re looking far into the future.

However, a good leader needs to be watching both. It is understandable that you might want to avoid micromanaging your team and indeed, losing sight of the big picture can be detrimental to the task at hand, but when the day-to-day tasks are being mishandled or misunderstood, it’s time to take stock.

Check in with your team regularly and see where they’re at. Ask them if they have any questions and relate all everyday activities to the overall goal you have your eye on. That way, you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Poor communication

Most of us have put ‘good communication skills’ on our CV without really giving it much thought, and yet we’ve all probably met people we consider to be bad communicators. Guess what? They probably have ‘good communication skills’ on their CV too.

You might not think to evaluate your communication skills before you arrive at a leadership role, but it’s vital that you understand your limitations in this respect.

Badly communicating what you want to your team will only lead them down the wrong path. Similarly, not providing feedback, good or bad, can mean your team has no idea where to go from there.

The only way to avoid or fix this problem is to talk to your team frequently. Make sure they understand your messages and requests when you deliver them. If something has been misunderstood, clarify it.

Make sure your team feels comfortable talking to you too. Communication is a two-way street.

Not making time for your team

As a leader, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own work. However, this is one of the most common leadership mistakes you can make.

It’s not enough to just tell them you’re there if they need you. You need to actually be present to prove that you’re there.

This is part of improving your communication skills. Block off time to talk to your team about worries they may have, help them with struggles on a particular project and actively listen to their ideas.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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